Cal Completes Third Three-Peat for 17th NCAA Men’s Water Polo Title


Cal Completes Third Three-Peat for 17th NCAA Men’s Water Polo Title

The University of California rode another stirring performance from Nikolaos Papanikolaou to claim the school’s third straight NCAA Men’s water polo title Sunday, a 13-11 decision over UCLA.

Papanikolaou was named the NCAA Championship MVP for the third straight year at Uytengsu Aquatics Center in Los Angeles. It’s the third time that Cal was won the national title three times in a row, joining 1973-75 under Pete Cutino and 1990-02 under Steve Heaston. Kirk Everist gets to add his name to the list, with his sixth national title as a coach to go with two as a player.

“It’s pretty nice. You don’t accomplish something like this without incredible players,” Everist said in a university release. “It takes a lot more than just great players to do this time and time again though. I’m just grateful to have been around these guys.”

Papanikolaou didn’t quite match his seven-goal output from last year’s final over USC. He scored just twice on Sunday, but he drew 11 exclusions. Cal was 8-for-19 on the power play and 2-for-2 on penalty shots.

Max Casabella led the way with five goals on just seven shots for Cal. Roberto Valera, who missed the first two games of the NCAA tournament, had four goals and two assists. Albert Ponferrada added four assists. Adrian Weinberg made 12 saves in goal and made two steals.

Rafael Real Vergara scored three goals for UCLA. Makoto Kenney paired two goals with three assists, Jack Larsen dished four assists, and Ben Leichty and Federico Juca Carsalade potted two goals apiece.

Valera scored twice in the opening quarter to help Cal to a 4-2 lead. Casabella’s second goal made it 6-2 Cal midway through the second quarter. Valera buried a penalty shot midway through the third that made it 12-6.

UCLA got within 12-10 with 5:36 to play on a Juca Carsaladae goal, but Casabella answered on the next possession to restore the three-goal bump.

Papanikolaou, a two-time winner of the Cutino Award and three-time finalist, is looking for his third such honor. He entered the postseason fourth on the team with 37 goals. He scored four times in the first round against Fordham but was blanked in the semifinal against USC. But he drew nine exclusions in that game, and his blocked shot with two minutes left in a tie game helped set up Marton Szatmary’s game-winner with 1:57 to play.

Papanikolaou finishes second in program history with 253 goals.

Cal entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed. UCLA was the top seed, though USC was ranked first in the latest College Water Polo Association poll. The Trojans had beaten the Golden Bears, 15-14, MPSF championship game. UCLA had beaten Cal all three meetings this season.

“There was a lot of adversity this season, but the best part about this group is we’re always going to stick together no matter how bad it gets,” Weinberg said. “I was pretty confident (since the start of the season) that we’d make it here.”

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x